Nine surprising food words

You might recognise “mess” as a food word, but what about “symbol” and “focus”? Here are nine too-often forgotten etymologies:

1. Mess has referred to a portion of food, a liquid food, a made dish, and a course of foods, all of which have been “messed” forth – from the Latin mittere (to send).

2. Symbol. The ancient Greeks combined sym– (together) and ballo (throw) for a “throwing together”, not least being a contribution meal, with each “contribution (properly to a feast or picnic), a share, portion” (OED) also called a symbolon. These contributions or “symbols” represent the whole thing.

3. Focus is the Latin for “hearth”, where cooks centre civilisation.

4. Foyer. From the Latin focus (hearth) derives the French and so English word “foyer” for entrance area. The German feuer (fire) is pronounced much the same as foyer.

5. Curfew for a regulation to extinguish fires at a fixed hour derives from the French couvrir (cover), feu (fire).

6. Bit. Related to “bite”. Each gigabyte on your computer takes 8000000000 bits.

7. Salary from the Roman soldiers’ regular payment of salt (sal).

8. Company. The people sharing bread (Latin cum- with panis bread).

9. Economics for “household management” from the ancient Greek oikos (household).

Almost all these examples come from my book about cooks at the heart of the human enterprise, originally The Pudding that Took a Thousand Cooks (1998) and renamed A History of Cooks and Cooking (2000).

Any further suggestions? I’m collecting a longer list.

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